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Lawmaker Eyes Higher Scrutiny for Foreign Media on Capitol Hill

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Rep. Jack Bergman (R-Mich.) is urging Congress to restrict foreign state-sponsored media access on Capital Hill over concerns that they could conduct espionage on behalf of U.S. adversaries.

In a resolution introduced on March 1, Bergman said he wants to require foreign state media with credentialed members in the House news media galleries to register as foreign agents under the Foreign Agents Registration Act (FARA), arguing that such outlets shouldn’t enjoy “the same privileges as traditional media.”

Currently, there are no caps on how many journalists from these outlets can receive credentials in the Congressional Gallery, which Bergman noted effectively give them “all-access passes” on Capitol Hill.

Nor are the foreign state-backed media subjected to background checks before acquiring the credentials, even as countries such as China, Russia, and Qatar have aggressively deployed espionage operations over the past decade.

Bergman’s resolution cited the surveillance balloon program that Beijing “brazenly” launched over the continental United States, the dozens of Chinese state-linked entities the Justice Department has indicted over cyberattacks and surveillance, and the closure of the Houston Chinese consulate in July 2020, a step that the State Department said was “to protect American intellectual property and Americans’ private information.”

houston chinese consulate eviction
Men load bags full of belongings from China’s Consulate into the back of a moving truck in Houston, Texas, on July 24, 2020. (Adrees Latif/Reuters)

“[W]hile the extraordinary access inside Capitol Hill granted to credentialed members of the media helps facilitate accurate reporting to the American public, it is also the kind of access coveted by foreign powers seeking sensitive information from inside Congress, and those with state-sponsored media outlets currently can easily obtain such access, even if they openly flout United States laws,” the resolution stated.

The resolution asked to allow only 10 total press credentials to qualifying foreign state-affiliated media and require their press credential applicants to go through FBI background checks.

In the 118th Congress, over two dozen journalists working for Chinese media that registered as foreign agents received congressional press passes, and so did 16 others at outlets that have been linked to senior Chinese Communist Party members, according to the resolution.

Among them were two reporters from China News Service, the second largest state news agency in China that the State Department in June 2020 designated as a foreign mission.

The outlet has yet to register as a foreign agent with the Justice Department.

Bergman said he finds it hard to see anyone standing in opposition to the measure.

“Unless and until state-sponsored media outlets respect our laws by registering under FARA, we cannot allow their employees almost unfettered access to the halls of Congress—especially if the FBI has never conducted background checks on those given ‘all-access passes’ for Capitol Hill,” read Bergman’s press release. It added that if those foreign state outlets do not respect FARA and U.S. laws protecting Americans from surveillance, “the possibility is all too real that foreign intelligence services could use their propaganda arms to hide intelligence operatives in plain sight in the U.S. Capitol.”

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